Last week, a suburb of San Juan was flooded with more than 150,000 women and men from all walks of life who spoke out against Republican Governor Luis Fortuño's drastic plan to layoff nearly 25,000 workers and gut the island's social safety net. The turnout for "Todo Puerto Rico para Puerto Rico" or "All of Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico" was spectacular in spite of the Governor's threat to prosecute those who attended the event as "terrorists" under the Patriot Act.
Failing to suppress turnout, the Governor's administration did its best to minimize the event, officially stating that 15,000 people turned out while the media estimates were 150,000 and organizers estimated closer to 300,000. Governor Fortuño and his administration are clearly aware that it's one thing to have a problem contained at home; it's quite another thing to become a problem in the eyes of Congress and the Obama administration.
While President Obama's vision for the U.S. economy is anchored in creating good jobs, affordable healthcare, and increasing accountability in the private sector, Governor Fortuno is clinging desperately to George Bush's failed economic agenda. This agenda protected the private sector and the very wealthy at all costs, decreased government accountability, and basically stacked the deck against the poor and middle class. And here we are one recession, an American Recovery Investment Act and a TARP Act later working our way out of it.
If Governor Fortuno and Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner, Congressman Pierluisi can keep the problem quarantined within Puerto Rico, they too will get a free pass on accountability for their lack of a clear plan to revive the U.S. territory's plummeting economy. They will continue to apply "survival of the fittest" economics to Puerto Rico with no need to account for how America's multi-billion dollar funding to the island is invested.
But why is Puerto Rico different from Michigan or California, or any of the states that have mounting job losses and stagnant wages?
First, working families in Puerto Rico have long struggled to find good jobs, afford a home, and send their children to college. If we don't address this crisis now, we are ensuring that the next generation of Puerto Ricans will continue the "brain drain" that has been occurring since the 1970's.
Second, Puerto Rico is racing toward a depression. Its unemployment rate is currently the level of Michigan, but with an anticipated 17,000 new public sector job losses by November 6, the unemployment rate could easily reach that of New Orleans post-hurricane Katrina.
Third, where are the jobs? To date, Puerto Rico has received $2.9 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment act and according to federal reporting, has created only 126 jobs. Other states in crisis have already generated thousands of new jobs in green sectors, sustainable energy, information technology, and infrastructure.
Fourth, we've seen this picture before. Governor Fortuno's track record on jobs has already proven that imitating Bush's economic policy is the fastest route to an economic doomsday. Puerto Rico has lost roughly 50,000 jobs in the private market since he took office less than one year ago. Cutting an additional 25,000 jobs in the public sector is only going to further threaten the island's economic recovery.
Last week's march proved beyond a doubt that Puerto Ricans believe in the future of Puerto Rico. What started as a march in protest to the impending firings of public sector workers has turned into a movement to hold Governor Fortuno accountable for solving this financial nightmare.
Puerto Ricans deserve so much more than a Governor whose only economic recovery plan is to fire the very people that are the heart and soul of its social safety net, and last week, they demanded it.